Agencies focused on community revitalization usually work in isolation from each other: here’s a U.S. state where they work together

It’s fairly common for states to have multiple agencies working on community revitalization. What’s rare is to see them working together. After all, there are myriad tactics that can contribute to revitalization—heritage, infrastructure, environment, jobs, etc.—but few, if any of them can actually produce revitalization in isolation.

Ideally, communities will have a strategic renewal process that brings all of these tactics together to create momentum. As documented in the 2020 book, RECONOMICS, momentum is essential to increasing confidence in the local future. And increased confidence in the local future is essential to attracting employers, investors and residents.

But there are places where agencies both perceive opportunities to work together, and act on it.

The Colorado Main Street program within the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) Division of Local Government (DLG) guides community-led downtown revitalization through a customizable framework to focus efforts, energy and resources to create more vibrant communities across the state.

There are 71 Main Street program communities and affiliates across Colorado from the eastern plains to the western slope, and each is unique in size, history and culture. They also share a common element – enthusiastic stakeholders with a strong desire for community revitalization.

Concurrently, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) developed the Revitalizing Main Streets grant program in 2020 to support infrastructure projects that provide open spaces for mobility, community activities, and economic development in areas in or adjacent to downtowns in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency. DOLA’s Main Street program supports these efforts through serving on the grant review committee as well as providing mini-grant and consulting services to further opportunities in Main Street communities.

Looking back on a year of the two programs working together, 14 of Colorado’s official Main Streets and 18 of the program’s affiliates were among cities and towns to benefit from this collaboration to improve safety and create new community spaces encouraging healthy activity and mobility. Many of these municipalities leveraged their association with Colorado Main Street to make their Revitalizing Main Streets grant applications more competitive.

This important program was recently featured in two issues of The Main Thing, a Colorado Main Street publication on pandemic response in Main Street communities. One issue explored the CDOT program in depth, and the other reflects upon the past year, where various Main Street communities named the Revitalizing Main Streets grant as their source for these significant accomplishments:

  • Central City, Colorado with the help of DOLA’s Main Street Architect, secured a $50,000 Revitalizing Main Streets grant to activate a vacant lot as a pocket park contributing to the city’s response to COVID-19 as well as their goal to provide more outdoor spaces within the community. “We love the support from Colorado Main Street,” said Central City Main Street Advisor Lisa Roehmhildt. “The consulting, funding and architectural design assistance have been incredibly timely and pushed forward several projects.
  • Hugo, Colorado is wrapping up projects funded by Revitalizing Main Streets grants, with matching funds coming from a Colorado Main Street mini-grant. These projects helped make the town easier and safer to navigate by adding benches and bicycle racks through the Main Street District, adding 25 MPH speed limit signs throughout the residential zones, and adding pergolas, bike amenities, seating, and solar lighting to a local park. “[The past year has been] an incredible experience in leadership and support from the Colorado Main Street office, providing us with a proven direction for towns like ours who want to survive and need the help,” said Hugo Main Street Manager Gillian Laylock. “It’s been a privilege to be brought into this fold.
  • La Junta, Colorado used Colorado Main Street mini-grant funds for the initial phase to convert a vacant lot into a dynamic park. “The Main Street connection has made this all possible,” said La Junta Main Street Director Cynthia Nieb. “We work hard, and our hard work has paid off.”
  • Lamar, Colorado received two $50,000 Revitalizing Main Streets grants to assist with infrastructure improvements such as bike trail connections and sidewalk accessibility. The grants have allowed the City to enhance outdoor dining experiences in a pocket park paid for in part by Colorado Main Street mini-grant funds. “It’s definitely been an innovative and resilient past year,” said Lamar Main Street Coordinator Morgan Becker.
  • Rangely, Colorado also leveraged Colorado Main Street mini-grant funds to match two $50,000 Revitalizing Main Streets grants, one for the widening of sidewalks and installation of a pocket park with benches, trash receptacle, and bike tower, the other to repave a walking path and add a new bench. “We’ve only been a Main Street community [since July 2020], and we feel like we have had so many accomplishments already!” said Jeannie Caldwell, Rangely Marketing Coordinator.

We treasure our Main Streets and now downtown areas across our state will provide even better and safer local activities at the heart of our Colorado communities,” said Governor Jared Polis. “These improvements mean that downtowns across our state can prosper and provide fun for generations to come.

This once-in-a-generation opportunity to keep Colorado’s Main Streets Open for Business provides transformational funding now and into the future,” said DOLA Executive Director Rick M. Garcia. “Along with our partners we are in a unique position to collectively champion community vision and build stepping stones to business and community recovery.

These community driven projects are a great illustration of multiple state agency programs working together to leverage support and funding opportunities for our resilient local partners across the state of Colorado,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew. “CDOT is thankful for the collaboration between our Revitalizing Main Streets team and DOLA’s Colorado Main Street program, as well as the high level of support from Governor Polis’s Administration to keep this positive momentum going for our state’s downtowns to come back stronger than ever.

The Revitalizing Main Streets grants from CDOT help localities improve their roadways and community infrastructure, supporting strong economic activity and public safety. The program began last summer in an effort to mitigate the negative economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis. Awarded projects span the entire state.

The continuation and expansion of Revitalizing Main Streets was made possible through a $30 million allocation from the state legislature in March 2021 and those funds are currently available for local government competition, with significant anticipated demand. The passage of SB-260 further extends this highly successful program beyond the current grant cycle.

Main Street: Open for Business complements the work of CDOT’s Revitalizing Main Street through a $7 million allocation from the state legislature in June 2021. Open for Business provides municipalities, counties, and councils of government the opportunity for funds to help downtown small business and building owners with façade improvements and energy efficiency projects.

The Colorado Main Street Program is funded in part by a State Historical Fund from History Colorado and provides official Main Street cities and towns assistance in building community engagement and support to attain their long-term visions for the future of their historic downtowns.

Photo of Rangely courtesy of Town of Rangely.

See the Colorado Main Street Program website.

See the Revitalizing Main Streets page.

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